United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
N. Bloch, United States District Judge.
NOW, this 30th day of August, 2019, upon
consideration of the parties' cross motions for summary
judgment, the Court, upon review of the Acting Commissioner
of Social Security's final decision, denying
Plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits under
Subchapter II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §
401 et seq., and denying Plaintiff's claim for
supplemental security income benefits under Subchapter XVI of
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et
seq., finds that the Acting Commissioner's findings
are supported by substantial evidence and, accordingly,
affirms. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Jesurum v.
Sec'y of U.S. Dep't of Health & Human
Servs., 48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d Cir. 1995); Williams v.
Sullivan, 970 F.2d 1178, 1182 (3d Cir. 1992), cert.
denied sub nom., 507 U.S. 924 (1993); Brown v.
Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988); see also
Berry v. Sullivan, 738 F.Supp. 942, 944 (W.D. Pa. 1990)
(if supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's
decision must be affirmed, as a federal court may neither
reweigh the evidence, nor reverse, merely because it would
have decided the claim differently) (citing Cotter v.
Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 705 (3d Cir. 1981)).
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. No. 11) is DENIED and Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 13) is GRANTED.
 Plaintiff argues, in essence, that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by: (1)
failing to find that Plaintiff's impairments meet the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “Listings”) at
Step Three of the sequential analysis; (2) failing to order
consultative evaluations, thereby failing to develop the
record; (3) improperly disregarding the medical opinion of
Plaintiff's treating health care provider; (4) improperly
evaluating Plaintiff's subjective complaints of pain,
thereby erring in making his residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) assessment; and (5) improperly
disregarding the testimony of the vocational expert
(“VE”) and relying on an incomplete hypothetical
question. The Court disagrees and finds that substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's findings as well as his
ultimate determination, based on all the evidence presented,
of Plaintiff's non-disability.
First, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in
finding that Plaintiff's impairments do not meet the
severity of Listing 12.05(C) at Step Three of the sequential
analysis. The Court notes that the Listings operate as a
regulatory device used to streamline the decision-making
process by identifying claimants whose impairments are so
severe that they may be presumed to be disabled. See
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1525(a), 416.925(a). Because the
Listings define impairments that would prevent a claimant
from performing any gainful activity-not just substantial
gainful activity-the medical criteria contained in the
Listings are set at a higher level than the statutory
standard for disability. See Sullivan v. Zebley, 493
U.S. 521, 532 (1990). Thus, a claimant has the burden of
proving a presumptively disabling impairment by presenting
medical evidence that meets all of the criteria of a listed
impairment or is equal in severity to all of the criteria for
the most similar listed impairment. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1526, 416.926.
In this case, the ALJ explained in his decision that
Plaintiff's impairments had been evaluated under Listing
12.05, which deals with intellectual disability. (R. 21). The
ALJ noted that paragraph C of that listing requires a
“valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 60
through 70 and a physical or other mental impairment
imposing an additional and significant work-related
limitation of function; i.e., there must be another
severe impairment or combination of severe
impairments.” (R. 22 (emphasis in original)). Upon
review of the evidence of record, however, the ALJ found that
although Plaintiff's “I.Q. scores . . . fall within
the parameters of paragraph C, there is no other severe
impairment(s) of record.” (R. 22). Therefore, the ALJ
found that the requirements of paragraph C had not been met.
(R. 22). Plaintiff asserts that his seizure disorder, his
alleged back and knee disorders, his obesity, and additional
mental health disorders should have been found to be
additional severe impairments at this step in the inquiry,
which would have led to a finding that he is
The Social Security regulations provide that
“[f]or paragraph C, we will assess the degree of
functional limitation the additional impairment(s) imposes to
determine if it significantly limits your physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities, i.e., is a
‘severe' impairment(s), as defined in §§
404.1520(c) and 416.920(c).” 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1, § 12.00(A). In order to be
considered at Step 2, an impairment must be a medically
determinable impairment established by signs and clinical
findings from an acceptable medical source. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1513(a), 404.1520(a)(4)(ii),
416.913(a), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). An impairment may not be
established on the basis of symptoms alone. See SSR
16-3p, 2016 WL 1119029, at *2 (Mar. 16, 2016). Additionally,
a severe impairment must be severe for a continuous period of
at least 12 months. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1509, 1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.909, 416.920(a)(4)(ii).
Finally, the claimant bears the burden of production and
persuasion at Step 2. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 146 n.5 (1987).
With regard to Plaintiff's seizure disorder, as
the ALJ pointed out, the medical records indicate that
Plaintiff had not experienced any seizures since January
2008, 2½ years before the relevant period began (and
that he had denied having had seizures for close to 10
years). (R. 20). The ALJ also noted that Plaintiff's
prescription for Depakote apparently controlled his seizures
well, and that his records indicated his seizure disorder was
“stable” and “controlled” throughout
the relevant period. (R. 20). Substantial evidence therefore
supports the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff's seizure
disorder was not severe.
As for Plaintiff's alleged back and knee
disorders, although Plaintiff testified to experiencing back
and knee pain, no doctor diagnosed him with a back or knee
disorder, no clinical findings supporting any such disorders
exist in the record, and no diagnostic testing was done or
recommended. (R. 19). Rather, the clinical findings regarding
Plaintiff's back and knees were normal. (R. 19). Although
Plaintiff complained of back or knee pain to his care
providers on 3 occasions, the record indicates that he much
more frequently denied experiencing any such pain. (R. 20).
Although Plaintiff testified that he occasionally took
narcotic pain medication, the treatment notes contain no
record of a prescription for such medication. (R. 20).
Finally, no medical or other source assessed any functional
limitations regarding Plaintiff's back or knees. (R. 20).
Therefore, substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
finding that Plaintiff's alleged back and knee disorders
were not severe impairments.
Regarding Plaintiff's obesity, the ALJ noted that
no physician of record had tied Plaintiff's
musculoskeletal complaints to his obesity. (R. 20). The ALJ
also explained that Plaintiff testified to having pain, but
his medical records more often showed Plaintiff denying pain
to his care providers. (R. 20). The ALJ further noted that
Plaintiff was not receiving any narcotic pain prescriptions,
physical therapy or pain management therapy. (R. 20). He had
not been referred to any specialist, nor had any medical
source of record imposed any functional limitations due to
his obesity. (R. 20). Thus, substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's finding that Plaintiff's obesity was not a
Finally, although the ALJ noted that Plaintiff had
testified that he might have been depressed, Plaintiff did
not require any mental health treatment during the relevant
period and he routinely denied depression to his treatment
providers. (R. 24-25). Rather, upon review of the evidence,
Plaintiff's treatment records show, among other things,
that he had normal mood and affect with no evidence of
depression or anxiety, was well-groomed, had good eye
contact, normal attention, normal thought form and content,
normal concentration, and intact judgment and insight.
Substantial evidence therefore supports the ALJ's
findings that did not include other mental disorders as
Accordingly, the Court concludes that the ALJ did not
err in finding that Plaintiff did not have an additional
severe impairment in accordance ...